It cost a staggering $200 for that time. The antenna took up almost the entire roof of the car, the batteries barely fit under the front seat, and the huge speakers had to be fixed to the back of the seat backrest. The year was 1922, just over 20 years after the launch of the first mass-produced Oldsmobile Curved Dash car. Entertainment had just made its entrance into the car industry – Chevrolet introduced the first car radio. From then on it only got more exciting.

Nowadays, 100 years on from that event, we can no longer envisage a car without radio, music, or news. In fact, we can no longer imagine a car without entertainment in the broadest sense of the word. Because the radio – at least in its traditional form – is slowly becoming obsolete. It’s being replaced by a “personal radio station” created by the driver – streaming music, favorite podcasts, audiobooks, and even video content. 

Although we are still a far cry from the catchy phrase “a smartphone on wheels”, first uttered in 2011 by Akio Toyoda, the automotive industry is indeed heading in this direction. Cars are ceasing to be vehicles designed to take us from A to B. Like any other device connected to the Internet, they are becoming a gate to new worlds of entertainment, shopping, learning, or gaming. 

When finishing shopping or listening to an audiobook on one device, we want to seamlessly continue the activity on a laptop or desktop computer. Whether we like it or not, the car is becoming another medium that will allow us to stay virtually connected all the time.

Akio Toyoda was wrong. A car is much more than a “smartphone” on wheels!

A potentially larger screen than a smartphone (not only the touchscreen in-vehicle infotainment system panel, but the windscreen too, which can also be used to display content), at least 4 seats that can be independently paired with the in-car entertainment system, and, ironically, much more mobility than mobile devices. 

As we look at the development of V2X (vehicle-to-everything) technology, which will turn vehicles into the Internet of Things devices, the opportunities that lie ahead for the automotive industry in the entertainment field are hard to estimate.

One thing is certain. This process cannot be stopped. Every company in the automotive industry must be aware of the upcoming changes. 

According to IHS Markit data, in 2014 only 53% of cars in the USA had a dashboard touch screen, while today this percentage has already reached 82%. These types of solutions can bring automotive companies entirely new revenue streams, and most importantly they will be less dependent on vehicle production cycles and with much higher margins. 

The in-vehicle infotainment system market is estimated to be worth $78.9 billion by 2025. [Allied Market Research].

Quo Vadis in-vehicle infotainment systems? 

In-vehicle voice assistants for infotainment control

Siri, Alexa, or Google Now are names that have become part of the consumer market and make life easier for most of us, allowing us to make phone calls, send messages or manage our own calendars. While sending voice commands to our phone or the speaker in our home or office is nothing new, communicating with our own car is still some kind of novelty.

And it is here while driving when we need to focus on the road and have our hands free, that voice technology can be of the most benefit and make driving more efficient and smooth. And of course, more fun.  

Navigant Research (Guidehouse) predicts that by 2028, 90% of vehicles will be equipped with a voice assistant. Already today – looking at Voicebot.ai data – a large proportion of commands given by drivers are entertainment-related. Playing music, listening to podcasts, finding out about movies, ordering food, or making purchases directly from behind the wheel is becoming increasingly popular among drivers with enhanced IVI systems.

In-Vehicle Infotainment

The main players in this section are certainly the manufacturers already known for their other platforms, namely Google and Apple, which are integrating their Android Auto and Carplay technologies in partnership with major OEMs. Hot on its heels is Amazon, which has not only begun collaborating to bring Alexa into Toyota, Ford, and BMW vehicles but also released an Amazon Echo device that any driver can install in their car themselves (as long as it meets the manufacturer’s technical requirements).

Vehicle manufacturers, however, are no longer just waiting for the offers of the largest players in this market, but are developing their systems or working with smaller business partners to help them develop such solutions.

Korea’s Hyundai has entered into an operation with Saltlux, a company specializing in semantic networks. Honda, Kia Motors, and Daimler are working with the SoundHound start-up. And Volkswagen has invested $180 million in the Chinese start-up Mobvoi. 

Gesture-recognition

Voice command in the car is a trend that will continue to grow every year. Yet, there are situations in which gestures are much better than voice commands – for example when you are on a call or have a cold and don’t want to strain your throat. Gestures are universal for every driver, while voice assistant applications are often still hampered by technological limitations, for example, due to the variety of accents or the system’s adaptation to the driver’s language.

As the system recognizes a gesture made with the palm of your hand, fingers, or even your head, you can stay focused on your driving and at the same time activate a specific function when you cannot use your voice command. Scrolling through songs on the radio, raising or lowering the temperature in the car, launching a text message application – all these actions can be configured using gestures. Instead of clicking and scrolling through a touchpad, which always entails taking your eyes off the road, gestures will allow you to boost safety and easily manage the entire system. 

Virtual reality & Augmented reality 

While currently the introduction of virtual reality in vehicles only makes sense for passengers who do not need to focus on driving, augmented reality technologies are already being successfully implemented in vehicles. Unlike VR, augmented reality does not distract drivers from reality and allows them to concentrate on driving. And they can even increase safety.

Although today this type of technology can only be found in the most innovative and prestigious IVI systems (one of the first cars in which this technology was used was Mercedes-Benz GLE 2020), we should expect this type of solution to develop in the near future, as it brings a whole new quality to in-car entertainment. 

Their direct equivalent to the automotive field is the heads-up display system, which is an additional head-up display integrated into the vehicle’s windscreen in addition to the IVI control panel. This screen can be used to display destination-related information, traffic warnings, or information about other vehicles on the road (so-called intelligent terrain mapping). 

In the near future, these technologies may also be applied in entertainment itself – for instance in the form of augmented marketing. The windscreen will then display interesting offers and discounts from the restaurants, shops or shopping malls we have just passed. The displayed images will of course adapt to our driving speed, and we can decide for ourselves what kind of messages we wish to see.

In-Vehicle Infotainment - Virtual reality & Augmented reality

On-demand in-car services

In-vehicle infotainment systems are the point of contact between different parties: customers, internet providers, companies producing vehicles, making entertainment, or electronic equipment (e.g. smartphones). 

In most cases, drivers already have their favorite apps (Google and Apple being in the lead, of course) and use their favorite streaming services. Competing with platforms like Spotify, Netflix, Pandora or Slacker may not necessarily be the best strategy for automotive companies. It is much better to make use of the recognisability of brands that provide entertainment content and, based on this, extend it with a unique offer for their own clients. Opening up to partnerships with third-party platforms is the best way to address customer needs and create a stream of data that can be monetized.

One of the interesting market examples of this type are the efforts of the GM concern, which has created its own car application in the form of a marketplace, from which the driver can make purchases at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, pay for the fuel at selected petrol stations, and book a hotel or a table at a restaurant. 

We should expect that the trend of shopping straight from the car and making the most of the time we have on our commute to/from work while being stuck in traffic jams will not be limited to listening to music and podcasts only. With the development of the Internet of Things, drivers will also be able to control other devices within their “smart” network from their vehicles. 

Samsung is already creating solutions that allow the driver to look into their own fridge and decide whether they need to go shopping, turn up the thermostat to prepare the perfect temperature for the return home, activate the alarm when going on holiday, or open the gate automatically. 

Rear seat entertainment

Most modern IVI systems are not just an integrated head-unit, i.e. a touch panel on the vehicle dashboard for the driver, but more and more often, interactive panels dedicated to the passengers. These offer practically endless opportunities for entertainment. And we don’t just mean the extensive range of streaming video services that can be subscribed to in the vehicle.

After all, the interactivity of the screens makes it possible to implement various applications and gamification elements in the car. These can take the form of quizzes, common picture drawing, shopping via third-party applications, or even karaoke singing, which can also engage the driver.

But what if the sound or type of music doesn’t suit the driver, who wants to concentrate on driving? There are already solutions that direct the sound from different areas of the vehicle so that each passenger can listen to different music without wearing headphones. 

This is how, for example, the Separated Sound Zone (SSZ) works in KIA cars. Based on multiple loudspeakers and the physical wave acoustics principles, the sounds do not overlap but instead reach their intended audience. Even if powerful beats dominate in the back seat, you can still relax while listening to calmer music in the driver’s seat. 

In-vehicle infotainment enters a new era

In-car entertainment has a long history. Ever since mobile devices became part of our lives, it is nothing new to connect a smartphone to a Bluetooth radio or for passengers to watch videos on their own smartphones/tablets. The only difference was that, until recently, in-vehicle infotainment was just an accessory, an element that makes a difference and highlights a brand. Today it is a factor on which customers often rely when buying a new vehicle.

In-vehicle infotainment is increasingly rarely limited to a touch screen panel on the dashboard. Right before our eyes, it is growing to be omnipresent and taking precedence over other vehicle functions. Brands that miss this moment and, like Blockbuster in the video content market or Nokia in the mobile market, may find themselves in a completely new reality. A reality in which totally different companies will be on top of the bunch.

Are you struggling with the challenge of integrating IVI systems into your vehicle? Or do you need expert opinion and advice in this area? Trust the specialists at Grape Up. We provide software solutions, integrate systems, and share the experience we have gained working with leading automotive brands.

automotive experts